The Reds are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, thanks in large part to an excellent season from staff ace Trevor Bauer. Naturally, the team is hopeful of retaining the star right-hander when he hits free agency this winter, though president of baseball Dick Williams said the Reds’ braintrust (which includes owner/CEO Bob Castellini and GM Nick Krall) were still what they hope is a long October run away from discussing offseason plans.
“Well, you know, Bob and I and Nick and the group will do everything we can to make that happen,” Williams told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon and other reporters. “I’d love to say yes that there are scenarios where it could happen. It’s honestly not something we’re working on today, right now, we’re really focused on the postseason, but I’d love to think that Trevor would come back.”
The Reds aren’t strangers to big contracts, as evidenced by Joey Votto’s team-record extension from the 2012 season and most recent deals like Eugenio Suarez’s extension or last offseason’s free agent deals with Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. This winter’s spending market will undeniably be different in the wake of the shortened 2020 season and the league-wide revenue losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in terms of pure track record, it isn’t out of the question that the Reds could lure Bauer back to the fold.
In a pure bidding war for a top free agent, the Reds would be underdogs. But given Bauer’s rather unique stance towards free agency, Cincinnati might have a better chance than expected. “I don’t think any team is out of the running to sign me,” Bauer told Sheldon and other media members, and the righty added that he has enjoyed his time with the team — particularly now that the playoffs are a reality.
“I don’t see this team as a losing team. We lost some games early that we probably shouldn’t have lost, but we’re in a position now to go to the postseason, and it takes a lot of energy to change a culture and to get over the hump initially,” Bauer said. “Once you do, you set yourself up for a window of success. Looking out into the future, if you’re talking about the I-want-to-win qualification, I feel like this is a team that I can win with, for sure.”
As evidenced by the last two weeks, the Reds are a formidable team when everything is running on all cylinders. Cincinnati is 10-3 over its last 13 games, a well-timed hot streak that booked the Reds a spot in the NL playoff bracket. Led by Bauer, the club’s pitching has been among the league’s best over that 13-game stretch, and the offense that struggled for much of the season finally began to perk up (a 102 wRC+ since September 13, the tenth-best such mark of any team in baseball).
It remains to be seen whether or not the Reds can make some noise this particular October, and going forward, the pieces are seemingly in place to make the team a consistent winner. Moustakas and (if he doesn’t opt out) Castellanos are signed through at least the 2023 season, Suarez through 2024, Sonny Gray through 2022, and younger building blocks like Luis Castillo, Jesse Winker, and Tyler Mahle only become arbitration-eligible this coming winter.
That being said, Cincinnati definitely placed a win-now focus on 2020 while Bauer was still in the fold. A little less than $13MM will be freed up when free agents Freddy Galvis, Anthony DeSclafani, and Nate Jones come off the books, though that money may be fully absorbed by the team’s many forthcoming arbitration raises. It doesn’t leave much room for Bauer to get a big bump up from his $17.5MM salary for 2020, and Bauer’s stated willingness to consider shorter-term deals (on a bigger average annual value) helps the Reds in the longer run but still puts them well beyond their usual financial comfort zone for 2021 or 2022 unless Castellini okays such a splurge.
If Bauer did leave, the Reds would at least get some return in the form of a draft pick. The club will surely issue Bauer a qualifying offer that will be rejected, thus putting the Reds in line to receive a compensatory draft pick if Bauer signs elsewhere.